Shaking up telecom

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Published: April 7, 2015 1:02:39 AM

It is not just Google trying to do away with roaming charges that is worrying telecom players

Google and a few other tech companies could perhaps end up resetting what customers expect from a mobile network and what such services cost. The digital giant is in talks, as per media reports, with Hutchison Whampoa and other mobile operators  to make international roaming free for American mobile users. In March, Google had announced plans to create a “smaller (than typical) scale” mobile network in the US—the company clarified that it would not be building a mobile mast network but will partner with existing networks for infrastructure. The partnership with Hutchison Whampoa could help Google’s efforts to bring down the costs of mobile services for people who frequently travel abroad and face steep data, voice and text charges. Whampoa is a major operator in the UK, Hong Kong, Macau, Indonesia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Austria and Ireland.

It will be easy for Google to strike up partnerships in Europe as the European Union is keen on a unified telecommunications market—’borderless mobile telephony’, as it has been called. What would the company’s mission mean for traditional telecom players? There is no doubt that mobile operators have long depended on cross-border partnerships with other mobile operators for roaming income. So, even if a few operators join Google in its efforts to eliminate roaming charges, it would put immense pressure on telecom companies to rethink charging for roaming. And it is not just Google that is trying to shake up the way telecommunications is operating  by giving greater control to the user.

Apple, for instance, is attempting to do away with SIM cards through a software that lets iPad-owners select a particular network from the many available and has a patent on a piece of technology that lets a device automatically switch between networks on the basis of network strength and competitive prices. With all the over the top services, viz. WhatsApp, Viber, etc, thrown into the mix, traditional telecom players have multiple reasons to worry.

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